To understand revenue attribution, and to execute it properly, explains Tish Millsap, requires a lot of preliminary planning—namely, a familiar framework that Tish has applied to a new context: the who, what, where, when, and why.

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"Before you even pick a tool, you need to really answer starting with the why," she says on Marketing Smarts Episode 571. "Why am I doing this? What questions am I trying to answer?"

The who is deciding which people on the buying team you want to include. The what is all the campaign activities you're going to be measuring.

"The when is really about what window I want to look at," Tish continues. "If an opportunity is created, do I want to look back three years to see what activities happened, or do I want to create a window that's much tighter, maybe only things that happened in the six months prior?"

Then, finally, after you've answered all those questions, you can get to the "where"—that is, what attribution tool you're going to use. And it could be one you already have!

"You probably already have something in your tech stack that does attribution," Tish advises. "If you have HubSpot, if you have Salesforce, if you have PowerBI or something like that, you already have the tools to do basic attribution models, and it's probably a good place to start."

Listen to the entire show from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.

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Full Transcript: Mastering the Revenue Attribution Puzzle

George B. Thomas: I'm super excited because we're going to get a little bit nerdy. We're going to dive into attribution, and really we're going to talk about revenue attribution, the puzzle that is for many B2B marketers revenue attribution, insights for you the B2B marketers.

I'm really excited, too, because it's going to be Tish Millsap coming along this journey with us. We're going to talk about what keeps Tish up at night pertaining to revenue attribution and the marketing space, we're going to talk about what in the world do we even mean when we talk about revenue attribution, it could mean different things to different people, we're going to talk about the hurdles, success, and maybe some of the hype along the way.

Tish Millsap has over 20 years of experience with a large range of marketing functions, including strategy, demand generation, marketing automation, product marketing, brand messaging, and creative management. Her consulting business focuses on her helping traditional marketing organizations become revenue focused marketing organizations by building the processes, infrastructure, and skills marketing teams need to drive qualified leads and, ultimately, business results for their company.

Ladies and gentlemen, get your notepad out and get ready. It's time for mastering the revenue attribution puzzle, insights for B2B marketers with Tish Millsap. We're having a conversation around revenue attribution, puzzle insights for you, the Marketing Smarts listeners, the B2B marketers, the people in the trenches.

First of all, Tish, how the heck are you doing today?

Tish Millsap: I am great. How are you?

George: I'm doing absolutely wonderful. Better now that you're here, because if you were not here, this podcast probably wouldn't be possible. Let's just go ahead and jump into the beginning question.

When we mention the words revenue attribution, I really do feel like it could be 27,000 different things depending upon how you think about those words. So that we can level-set and have a foundation for the rest of this podcast, when you say revenue attribution, when we're using in the rest of this podcast, what exactly do we mean? In other words, how do you define revenue attribution?

Tish: You're exactly right, it can mean a lot of different things, but all of those definitions really come down to one thing. That is we have activities that are happening and we want to connect those to the outcome of revenue being created. That's really the essence of revenue attribution.

Marketing teams in old school, they didn't really do revenue attribution. They were responsible for these are the activities we did, this is the number of leads that we generated, and this is the budget, this is what we spent, but they weren't responsible for revenue. Marketers today want to connect what they're doing to revenue, and that's what revenue attribution really allows them to do.

George: I love that, the ROI, the return on investment, this age that we're moving into that Marketing and Sales is more aligned. By the way, if you missed last week's episode on Sales and Marketing alignment with Matt Heinz, you definitely want to pick that one up after this one. He is absolutely amazing.

I do want to go off the beaten path for a second on this journey with you. You mentioned elements or events. When you think about revenue attribution and the things that the B2B marketers should be paying attention to and trying to tie back to revenue, where does your mind go with that?

Tish: There are a lot of things that you can put into an attribution model. That is one of the major decisions that you have to make when you are trying to do this. Fundamentally, you want to have your major activities all included in your model. Are you doing paid media like Google Ads, LinkedIn, and things like that? How are content downloads on your website, events that you're attending, webinar that you're doing?

That's really the core of what needs to be included in attribution. But you can also include things like page visits to your website, phone calls that your BDRs are making, meetings that are set. All of these can be put into a more sophisticated model, but the basic bread and butter is the basic activities that you're doing as a marketing team. Where is your focus, what are you executing on?

George: Where is your focus and what are you executing on? Jot that down real quick. In this next question, I feel like I could ask this question and it might be able to go seven different ways.

One of the things is you've mentioned the word model multiple times. I don't know if we'll be able to get into what you mean by model and what the models are. Also, I don't know if we're going to go into strategy versus tactics, because sometimes I think people just jump in feet first and they're like this is revenue something, let's do it. So, I'll just ask the question so that we can get into whatever direction you want to go.

What are some crucial elements that B2B marketers should be focused on regarding revenue attribution?

Tish: A lot of people that I work with, when we start talking about revenue attribution, they jump right to the tool, "I need to buy a tool to be able to do this." The tool is kind of further down in the decision chain. I have developed a framework, I call it the who, what, where, when, and why framework for marketing attribution. Before you even pick a tool, you need to really answer starting with the why. Why am I doing this? What questions am I trying to answer?

I just started working with a new client, and they had already purchased a tool, and it was fine. But we started getting into it and I said, "When we're talking about configuring this, what are the questions that you're trying to answer?" They were like, "Well, we want to do revenue attribution." I said, "In what sense? Do you want to understand the performance of your paid channels versus your free channels? Do you want to understand what's creating opportunities or what's closing opportunities? Let's get some questions on the table."

The first thing that I focus on is the why. Why are you doing this? What questions are you trying to answer? If we want, we can go into the who, what, when, and where questions as well.

George: I think if we can just go off the beaten path and give you time to unpack that, I think it's going to be a great journey for the Marketing Smarts listeners.

Tish: Let's start with who. When you have an opportunity created in your systems and environments, you can either connect all of the people in the buying team, maybe just the primary person, maybe all of the contacts that you have for that particular account to that opportunity. Do you want to include all of those people, or do you want to just include some of those people? Who is the first question that you want to answer because that's going to determine what activities are attributed to that opportunity. The broader you go, the broader your model is going to be.

Then the what. We kind of touched on what before. That's like what kind of activities do I want to include. Do I want to just include marketing campaign activities, do I want website activities, what do I want to include?

Then the when is really about what window I want to look at. If an opportunity is created, do I want to look back three years to see what activities happened, or do I want to create a window that's much tighter, maybe only things that happened in the six months prior to the opportunity creation really influenced that opportunity?

The where is really about the tool. Where do I want to see this? Where do I want to use it? What tools do I want to look at?

George: Love it. Marketing Smarts listeners, I hope you had your notepad ready, your iPad or whatever tablet you use ready, hopefully you were taking notes. If not, you've reached the first rewind point to go back and jot down some notes for that.

I'm a big fan of Mythbusters, that's why this question always makes it into the show. Are there common misconceptions, myths if you will, about revenue attribution that you would like to use the Marketing Smarts Podcast to debunk right now? Where does your mind go with that?

Tish: I think it's the idea that you only need one model. I get this a lot from people that I work with on this when they're like, "What model should we use?" Different models tell you different things. Here's where we can get a little bit into the models. Just to throw some crazy names out there, there's J-shaped, there's W-shaped, there's U-shaped, there's decay models, there's all these different kinds of models.

You should use a model to answer the kinds of questions you have. If I'm trying to understand what sort of marketing activities are pushing things to become opportunities, I might use a last touch model. That would tell me what is the thing that happened right before that opportunity was created. If I'm trying to get a general understanding of how all of my marketing activities work together to create opportunities, I might use a multitouch even spread model.

You kind of get my drift here. You have to pick models that answer the questions that you're trying to ask, which goes back to the why. If you haven't defined what questions you're trying to answer, you can't really decide which model to use because there's infinite options out there. You can do custom things, you can do data science things, but there's a lot of different options. One model is probably not going to be enough, although it's a good starting place.

George: I love this idea of you might want to look at multiple models. To be honest, I hope the Marketing Smarts listeners know that you gave them a layer of gold that doesn't get talked about a lot, and that is the idea of understanding the question for what model to be used. There are so many marketers I've had conversations with where they're like, "I just kind of poke around and I look, but I'm not real sure," and that is not the place that you want to be with revenue attribution.

Let's keep moving forward. When you think about revenue attribution, maybe it's learning about it, maybe it's leveraging at the organization, are there any tips, tricks, hacks, templates, mindsets, frameworks that a B2B marketer might actually be able to leverage or use so that they can do revenue attribution a little bit better, a little bit easier, or even use it at all?

Tish: It is a tough challenge for a lot of organizations. I think one of the problems out there is that all of the vendors out there kind of have their own flavor of cake on this. When you're trying to ingest information and learn more about attribution modeling, if you're going to the vendor sites and reading their content, it's very much about their philosophy. I like to give a vendor-agnostic view of how to think about attribution methodology, and that's kind of what I'm doing at the upcoming MarketingProfs event, because I feel like it's really important for you to look at things just from what your business needs and your business requires.

The other tip is that you probably already have something in your tech stack that does attribution. If you have HubSpot, if you have Salesforce, if you have PowerBI, or something like that, you already have the tools to do basic attribution models and it's probably a good place to start. Not everybody needs to spend between $50,000 and $100,000 out of the gate to get a tool when you can do some of the basics in-house with what you already have. So, that would be my other tip.

Be conscious of what content you're ingesting and who it is coming from and look at your own tech stack and see if there is something you can use that you already have.

George: My brain works in funny ways. When you started to mention the price of some of these tools, I was like it's like the chicken and the egg, you have to spend revenue so that you can actually do revenue attribution. What if it wipes out all of your revenue? Not a good idea. I love where we're going with the mindsets and items like that. What I want to do is keep diving down.

One of the things that I really like to do on the Marketing Smarts Podcast is be able to give the two sides of one coin. By the way, these two things, I have started to learn with all of these interviews that they're actually more entwined than we give them credit for, even though they feel like they're polar opposites on two different ends of a field or something along those lines.

I want to dive in first to one side of this coin. What are the challenges, what are the hurdles, what are the potholes, what have you seen really get in the way of B2B marketers when trying to implement revenue attribution for their organizations?

Tish: It certainly can be challenging. A lot of these vendors will say, "I can have you up and running in 30 days," or something like that. That is true, they're not saying something that isn't true, but only if your underlying data is clean.

That is probably the number one thing that I go in and help organizations with. How do we normalize your data so that when it's ingested by the tool, it makes sense? Are you using the same kind of campaign methodology? Are you using the same kind of form submissions? Is all of this stuff cleaned up and organized in your system? Because garbage in, garbage out. That is probably the biggest challenge that you have to overcome in order to make these models work.

I want to say the other side of the coin, to your point, the yin and the yang of this. Just as important is how do you get buy-in in your organization? Interestingly, this last engagement that I worked on, I was brought in by the CFO. I'd never been brought in by the CFO. It's always been the VP of marketing or the CMO or whatever. I was like this is going to be interesting because the CFO is really focused on how we're spending our money and what's the ROI on that money. He's been a great advocate in the organization to get the buy-in across the board for how we're doing this attribution work.

If you're coming in at this from marketing, the first thing is you have to get your sales ops team onboard. They have to agree to the methodology. Whatever model you choose, whatever inputs you choose, the sales organization has to be onboard or they're never going to believe what it is that the model puts out. I think the buy-in is something you cannot underestimate how important that is. Again, you'll implement this fancy tool, you'll do all of the hard work, and then nobody believes the reports once they come out.

George: This idea of buy-in, it's rampant in almost every part of what you try to do in an organization. For some reason, people just leave it lay on the floor and many times don't think about it, so I love that you brought that up.

The other side of this coin that I want to keep digging into, because I really want to be able to show the bullseye, if you will, the finish line, even though a finish line is never a finish line, it's just the start of another race. We'll stop getting metaphorical here for a second. The idea is when it comes to revenue attribution, what the heck does success look like, how do we determine if we have effectively implemented revenue attribution in our organization?

Tish: I think it comes out in two ways. One is that you are having formal discussions where you are looking at the attribution reports and making decisions on it. You're like, "It looks like SEO is performing really well. Let's go ahead and hire that SEO agency who is going to help us improve in that area. Let's invest money in that," or, "That tradeshow really didn't deliver any opportunities last year that become closed. Let's not do that tradeshow again."

The other part of it is on an informal basis. You're in a conversation and people randomly bring up the tool and say, "Let's look and see how that whitepaper performed. It was on this specific topic, and I'm wondering if we could enhance that, change it, or use it again, or something like that. Let's see what the attribution to that particular whitepaper is." That's when you've really engrained the attribution tool into your organization, when it's being used both formally and informally.

George: I love that so much. Actually, it kind of tickled my brain a little bit. I want to go off the beaten path for a second. This whole time we've been talking about revenue attribution, which if you think, we're talking about reporting, we're literally talking about measuring revenue. I don't want the marketers to be like me, I get easily confused. When you think about all of the reporting that we have to do, how can marketers integrate revenue attribution into their existing analytics measuring or reporting processes, or something that we can unhook to help them with that idea?

Tish: You're so right, it basically is reporting. I look at the span of reporting that marketers do and I kind of have five buckets for it. There's what I call backroom metrics, things like email activity, form completions, things that marketers care about and nobody else does, so you don't show that data to anybody outside of marketing.

Then you have campaign performance. I'm looking at individual campaigns, how many are turning into MQLs, and the status of those particular campaigns. Then I think about operational metrics, how many outstanding MQLs do we have, how many activities have been done against those MQLs, things like that.

The next bucket is kind of the bread and butter, it's volume, velocity, and conversion rates. I want to know the volume of MQLs and opportunities, I want to know the conversion rate of the MQLs, I want to know how fast they're moving through the funnel. Then the last bucket is your attribution bucket. Attribution is all of those different things that we talked about and how I'm attributing all those things that I looked at before, all of those campaigns, how I'm attributing those to revenue.

So, it is part of an entire reporting suite, it is its own thing, but it is basically a report.

George: I don't know about you, Marketing Smarts listeners, but I'm glad I asked that question because it definitely is rewind point number two. Listing out on your iPad, your Android device, chalk on a wall, or if you have spray paint handy, the five layers of what was just listed by Tish and how that might actually help you with your reporting on a monthly, quarterly, yearly basis and what you're looking at and talking about. By the way, I didn't mean to miss daily, because there are some reports that you might need to look at daily.

Tish: Yes. You're going to want to look at operational metrics every day, but they have their place and they're not the same as what we're talking about here, but they are related.

George: This has been an amazing journey down the reporting attribution or revenue attribution puzzle. My brain is still trying to tell me to go to reporting, but it's revenue attribution, it is a bunch of puzzle pieces. We have gotten great insights and we're maybe we're on our way to mastering it, so we didn't do too much of a clickbait title for the marketers.

Let's go ahead and land the plane. Tish, what in the world do you want to leave the audience with? You're on a journey, I'm on a journey, they're on a journey, and we get these nuggets of wisdom along the way. What are the words of wisdom that you would like to share with the Marketing Smarts listeners regarding revenue attribution?

Tish: I think that when you're about to go on this journey, there are three things to think about. Is your technical infrastructure ready? You need a readiness assessment before you even look at a tool.

What are my business processes that support that technical infrastructure? Is everybody creating campaigns in the same way and doing the same kinds of things? Data likes to be uniform.

The third thing is preparing for that buy-in, having those conversations even before you've gotten a tool. Nothing irritates people more than for you to say, "I bought this tool, I implemented it, and here's the report," and you didn't bring them along on the journey. Tell them early on, "This is what we're thinking about," and get their thoughts upfront and make sure you accommodate for what kinds of reports you're going to develop. That will save you later on the problems with getting buy-in.

George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.

I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.

We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk with Kellie Walenciak about the power of second chances in B2B marketing, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B marketing human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.

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